I will go to the one non-Halal butcher on the high street
for pork neck. If the younger man is behind the counter
he will say, what’s the occasion? Normally I shrug and smile
but this time I will say, a friend is coming for dinner.
(If it’s the older man then he won’t ask; he’ll just smile
at my smile.) I will stew the pork neck with potatoes
and peppers and a whole bulb of garlic. Coriander seeds.
Ground ginger. Paprika. Three chilies, dropped in whole.
I will not stint on the tomato puree. I will spoon in Marmite
and drop in lumps of frozen spinach at the last minute
because I still worry about your iron levels. When you arrive
the pork neck will have been in the oven for hours.
You will exclaim at the smell. While I sort the finishing touches
you will play your-paw my-paw your-paw with the cats.
I’ll pile the pork neck into bowls and we’ll curl our legs
under us on opposite sides of the sofa and love each other.
I go through handbags like Drake goes through girlfriends.
Like Drake, if we’re real I’m not too good to them.
I exhaust them, fill them with sharp objects and sling them around
until the handles give and I go back to buy whatever’s closest to the door
in Dorothy Perkins or Accessorize, anything as long as the fastening
looks solid and there’s room for my laptop.
One of the security officers at work called me The Girl
with the Green Handbag for the five months I had one.
When I replaced it with a tan satchel he took it personally.
After the tan satchel came a red PVC TK Maxx messenger bag
with big buckles. One time on the tube an elegant thing with the same
model in cream saw me with mine, my knackered
trainers and cutoff t-shirt. I watched her struggle,
eyes flicking from the buckles to my trainers
to my breasts in an ever more panicky circle.
Iraqi Jews say heart as khalb, like Iraqi Muslims do
but the endearment – my heart – the way you’d call a child
is ghulbie, as it is in Egyptian. Mum doesn’t know why this is.
Iraqi Jews rarely say thanks. They use merci with each other;
shukran only to Muslims. The closest they come to please
is da’hubbuk: I would love you if you –
Mum says, pass me the milk, da’hubbuk. I say, you wouldn’t
love me if I didn’t pass you the milk? She raises her hand
to hit me like you’d hit a drum if you wanted it to ring. She does
that thing she does with her chin. She has her dad’s deep-set eyes
but her expression is her mother’s, is her mother’s sister’s,
is her mother’s sister’s daughter’s. I pass her the milk.
She kisses my face like her mother used to: bordering on violent,
hands clamping my jaw. She calls herself more English than I am
even though I am the one who kisses like the English.
One body in the boxroom at a house party
with a rum and coke and the bass from
the living room. Another body, bottle of Becks
and a plate of crisps and homemade houmous,
the kind either everybody or nobody has to eat,
enough raw garlic to fell an abstainer. A third,
virgin margarita lovingly made. A fourth, proper
margarita concocted slapdash. A fifth, getting
difficult for everyone to fit on the single bed,
a sixth, no it’s fine I’ll perch on the windowsill
– no, sit under my legs – no, it’s fine. Minus one
on a mission for a top up from the kitchen tableful
of spirits and more Doritos, could you do a wee for me
while you’re up, plus two plus two plus four and
the missing one. Now everybody who knows how
to find the heart of the party is in it and the doors
won’t open. Always the most unprepossessing room
– only bores will tell you the fun happens in the kitchen.
In the locked boxroom the bodies start to split and multiply,
doppelgangering onto each others’ laps and up over
the furniture. The bodies are practised at keeping
the volume down so they aren’t discovered, but
one of everyone manages to talk to one of everyone
at least once. It’s too warm and too crowded. It’s perfect,
every body the perfect level of pissed, just perfect.
I told your sister you and I were going for a walk.
I said you’d thought to take me all the way
to the top of the barrow, so we’ve got a while.
I figured you’d be hiding, but I only just thought
to look for you in the serrations of the knife
your mum uses for preparing grapefruits.
I’ve brought brandy (the cooking shit, not the good shit)
and I’ve found your headphone splitter. Pass your phone:
let’s get pissed and watch the new Sherlock.
In case of fire
splash each other
and run. The kerosene will combine
with the adrenaline
to up your speed considerably.
In case of inclement weather
send the children outside
with no coats.
When they return,
dry them off. Dissolve
Lemsip in limoncello
and encourage them to chug it.
In case of tiger attack
keep kibble handy.
If no kibble, offer the children
once they’re wasted
on the limoncello.
The paracetamol in the Lemsip
should protect them from the pain.
In case of alien invasion
douse the ships with kerosene.
Offer the aliens limoncello.
(Reserve the remaining Lemsip
for the tiger’s hangover.) Persuade the aliens
of the benefits of a tobacco habit.
Give them a lighter with a Union Jack on it to take home.
In case of an unexpected visit from the Queen
hide the aliens under the carpet
and the tiger behind the curtains.
Turn the photos of the children face down.
Crack open the limoncello.
Smoke a cigarette with her Majesty.
Explain that you gave away your more patriotic lighter.
I keep crossing out opening lines
of poems about you, unsure
if I’m allowed still to be this angry.
I’ve carried you so long your edges
have been obsessed smooth.
You have enough weight
in my pocket that sometimes
people ask what that noise is
when I walk – that noise
like if a rock had a heartbeat.
You understood the stone and the mud,
the rich earth from which we are all
golemed. You breathed life into anything
in your cupped hands: garden godhead,
your kingdom roses and cabbages.
I didn’t ask how you were held together.
I was left with two handfuls of soil, a rock
which still beats life – a heartstone
against my wallet and my keys.
I am angry whether or not it is allowed.